The Greenwich Society

Greenwich line rail services

I am sure you will have seen the press reports on the publication of the Williams Review last week, now known as the Williams - Shapps Plan. I do not want to repeat what is readily available elsewhere, but I have read the White Paper with a view to working out what it could mean for the Greenwich Line. I am afraid my conclusion is not good news.
To summarise the main points, a new organisation will be set up, Great British Rail, which will absorb Network Rail and be responsible for the running and the planning of the rail network in Great Britain. It will own the infrastructure, and set most of the fares and the timetable. It will contract private partners to operate the trains under Passenger Service Contracts, similar to the London Overground and the DLR. These contracts will set the standards against which operators will be measured. Some functions from the Rail Delivery Group and DfT will also be taken on by GBR. It will have a National brand identity, with one website and an app through which tickets can be purchased between any two stations on the whole network.
GBR will work in partnership with devolved authorities, including TfL. Devolved authorities will continue to exercise their current powers. The situation in London is described as follows:
“In London and the South East a new strategic partnership will be established to support housing, economic growth and the environment across the highly interconnected transport network in that part of the country. This will bring together GBR,  TfL and local authorities and businesses to co-ordinate timetabling and investments and to provide a consistent passenger experience in areas such as accessibility, ticketing and communications.”
It says nothing about the possible transfer of London services to TfL.
GBR will initially have five Regional Divisions, organised in line with Network Rail, with their own budgets . These are described as being powerful bodies responsible for the whole system in their Region, determining Regional priorities and responsible for day-to-day delivery in their area.  There will be dedicated station management teams to manage stations, land and assets. This suggests the Greenwich line will be part of a Southern Region. How this would impact, if at all, on Thameslink services that also travel through the Eastern Region is unclear.
The five year funding settlements will continue, with the next one covering the period 2024-2029. The White Paper says investment will be prioritised in areas that have seen less spending in the past. The South East is identified as benefitting from Crossrail, new train fleets and the Thameslink upgrade, so all of the future major projects except one will be outside the South East. It does not specify the one project,  but it is likely to be the Croydon re-modelling. For the Greenwich line, this means there is likely to be little in the way of investment despite the South Eastern Networker and Electrostar trains being around 25 years old. The gently crumbling Maze Hill station will doubtless continue to crumble.
GBR needs legislation to be set up, and it will not exist before 2023. In the meantime, operators will presumably continue to provide a service under direct contracts. GTR’s contract has been extended to 2023 with DfT discretion to extend further. There has been no announcement about South Eastern. There is likely to be little incentive for the operators to do anything other than keep services running during this period. There is no indication of how GBR is likely to award Passenger Service Contracts, or divide the services between operators. I don’t think there is likely to be much change affecting the Greenwich line very soon. In my view, stagnation will be the order of the day until 2023 at the earliest and probably much longer. 
It is proposed there will be a long term strategy setting out key strategic priorities for the whole network for the next 30 years. This sounds somewhat ambitious to me, but a Whole Industry Strategic Plan has been commissioned by the Secretary of State. Given that privatisation and franchising lasted less than 30 years, and who knows what will happen between now and 2041, I am not sure what value this will have in practice. 
The White Paper refers to co-operation and input from “local leaders”, meaning local politicians, but makes no reference to Stakeholder Groups like GLUG and other User Groups. There is a reference to Transport Focus and London Travelwatch continuing as the passengers champion, but there is no reference or commitment to continuing the Stakeholder Forums or anything similar. This is worrying, and is a backward step that could mean less transparency and less input from local users.
The White Paper includes a number of other objectives, all of which are laudable but lack specifics: flexible season tickets available for 8 days in a 28 day period; improving accessibility; improving the passenger experience; and more comfortable seats!
The proposed restructuring of the industry could well be an improvement on franchising and the division between Network Rail and the operators. GLUG does not take a political view, and has always held to the position that we do not comment on who runs the railway, only the service that is provided. On that basis, the White Paper, in my view, offers little in the near future to users of the Greenwich line.
Mike Sparham
Greenwich Line User Group